Brown creates lifelong readers by instilling a love of books in students

By John Dilmore

For Bonita Brown, who teaches reading and language arts at Atlanta Elementary School, instilling a love of reading in her students is more than just a job, it’s a passion. 
Brown knows it’s that love of reading that will create the “lifelong readers” she hopes to help inspire and send into the world with an appetite for discovering new books.
“I feel I’m a motivator,” Brown said. “That’s one of my jobs, is to motivate. 
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘There’s no such thing as a child who hates to read, there are only children who have not found the right book’ (by Frank Serafini). I think that it takes a lot of determination on a teacher’s part to keep looking for that right book. Interest is a big part of that.
“Meeting the needs of every child to me is a challenge that I enjoy,” Brown continued. “If we were teaching everybody the same all the time, that would get tiring probably. But I feel like every year I have a new set of students with new sets of needs, and throughout the year we grow. We talk about our ‘reading muscles’ and how we have to have stamina.”
Brown employs a number of tools in building that stamina and love of reading. One of the things she does is read to her students – something they usually cite as one of their favorite parts of the class.
“Even if they can’t read that book, they can enjoy it, and I find it motivates them as well,” Brown said.
Another thing she enjoys is bringing a broad range of experiences to her classroom through the experiences gained from living and teaching in six states: North Dakota, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arkansas and Texas. The moves were largely due to her husband Larry’s career in the Air Force. He retired as a colonel, and they moved to Atlanta, his hometown.
“We always said that when he retired from the Air Force, we would come back to a small hometown.
“One of my goals, I said ‘I’ve lived in a lot of places, and I’d like to bring the world to my classroom in Atlanta.’ So, I’ve tried to do that with reading,” Brown said. “I just make it a little more alive for them, because I have all kinds of souvenirs and artifacts and they can see that it’s a real place.”
She’s helped by a special corner of her classroom, dubbed the Reading Café. There, approximately 1,000 books are kept for students to choose from, in addition to those they can find in the school library.
Everywhere around the learning environment shared by Brown and her students, the importance of reading is out front and apparent.
“It (reading) helps them learn and it helps them with life,” Brown said. “If they can’t read, there are going to be a lot of struggles, that I can help avoid.”
She and Larry – who teaches the Master Gardener program at the school – have two grown children and one grandson. In her free time, Bonita enjoys reading, not surprisingly, music and a number of other pursuits.
When asked for words to live by, she said, “’others before self’ has directed my life in many ways. From the time I was 10 years old and teaching the neighborhood kids on my front porch, I knew that God meant for me to be a teacher. So, children have made up the majority of ‘others’ in my life. In my 30 plus years as an educator I have also been guided by the words ‘make learning fun.’ 
“Whatever it takes, I’m willing to do it to help motivate students reach their reading goals, as well as be a part of their reading team. As a parent, I shared my passion with my own two children and they are now adult lifelong readers. And as a grandparent of a six-year-old I’m overjoyed that our summer reading fun together has made him the top first grade reader at his school! 
“This gift of reading is just too wonderful not to share with everyone.”

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